CASTINE, Maine — The schooner Bowdoin, Maine Maritime Academy’s sail training vessel, was in L’Anse au Loup, Labrador, on Thursday, scheduled to head south down the west coast of Newfoundland today on the last leg of its Celebrating Bartlett 2009 tour of the region.
The celebration has honored Capt. Bob Bartlett, the Newfoundland native who was the captain of the Roosevelt, the ship that took Adm. Robert Peary’s 1909 North Pole expedition into the Arctic. Bartlett also traveled by dog sled with Peary’s team on the trek to the pole.
During the summer, the Bowdoin has been a key attraction at events in ports around Newfoundland and Labrador, and has served as a reminder of the type of Arctic vessel the legendary Bartlett had sailed.
The response to the vessel has been positive, according to Dean Williams, events manager for Celebrating Bartlett 2009.
“People have fallen in love with this vessel,” Williams said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Williams said planners had looked to the Bowdoin as a second choice when they realized Bartlett’s former vessel, which is being restored, would not be available for the celebration. When they learned that the schooner was the only one around that had been built specifically for Arctic sailing, they realized it was ideal for the planned events this summer.
“We wanted to have the Bowdoin here as a way to draw people out, to tell Bartlett’s story,” Williams said. “We realized that the Bowdoin was telling its own story and that is because Captains John Worth and Rick Miller and the crew are able to speak to the Bowdoin so well and to relate their own love of this vessel. …”
“They have related so well to the local people,” he said. “They are well-respected, and well-liked as well.”
The feeling is mutual, according to John Worth, the MMA small vessels instructor who was captain of the first group of MMA students on the trip from Castine to Newfoundland and the early part of the Bartlett celebration.
At every port, he said, the Bowdoin and its crew received a warm welcome.
“People were just very excited about having us there,” Worth said. “They were so friendly and welcoming, and anything we needed, they’d help us with.”
Worth and Williams said part of the Bowdoin’s attraction was that the vessel reminded people of their traditional links to the sea.
At one port, Worth said, a woman told him that when she saw the schooner, she started to cry.
“She said she remembered her father coming in on a schooner and that the harbor had once been filled with schooners,” he said.
The nine official ports visited so far on the Celebrating Bartlett tour included a flotilla escort into the harbor, sometimes from the Canadian Coast Guard, and, on occasion, from a local fishing fleet.
There was always a reception, and the crew members often were treated like rock stars.
“Reporters would hunt them down for interviews,” Worth said. “They were on television quite a bit and people got to recognize them.”
Often the reception would include local singers who sang the U.S. national anthem.
“I was incredibly moved by that, to hear that in a foreign country,” he said. “And the thing was that all the Canadians knew the words and were singing along. I think there was a lot of good will generated back and forth between the province and the United States.”
The Bowdoin’s participation in Celebrating Bartlett 2009 coincided with the annual training sessions for the crews on the schooner. Three different groups of students participated in the cruise, including novice sailors participating in a “learn-by-doing” course and MMA seniors who were tested on various subjects to meet U.S. Coast Guard standards.
Worth left the ship in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, halfway through the 12-port cruise. Rick Miller took the vessel to Labrador and will bring it back to Newfoundland. As of Thursday, three port calls were left as part of the celebration. Eric Jergenson will be the captain for the last leg of the journey and will bring the vessel back to Castine later this month.